April 7, 2006
Regulators Vote to Restrict Salmon Fishing
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Federal regulators voted Thursday to severely restrict salmon fishing off the coasts of Oregon and Northern California this summer to protect dwindling populations in the Klamath River.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided to close most of the 700 miles of coastline to commercial salmon fishing for much of May, June and July, the most productive months of the season, which runs from April-October. Federal fishery officials said the closures were the broadest ever imposed on the West Coast salmon fishery.
"This is going to be a horrible year," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association. "It's not a total closure, but it's the closest thing to it."
The council's decision, which some members described as "brutal" and "gut-wrenching," still must be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which generally follows the panel's recommendations.
Fishermen were relieved the council voted to allow some fishing this season - many had feared a complete ban from Point Sur south of Monterey to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon - but they said it would be difficult to earn a living under such strict limits.
"We're getting a lot of fishing time in areas with no fish and very little fishing time in areas that do have fish," said Mike Hudson, of Berkeley, who heads the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association.
The council, meeting in Sacramento this week, heard testimony from dozens of biologists, environmentalists and fishermen on whether it was possible to preserve a salmon fishing season without hurting Klamath chinook.
While salmon populations from the Sacramento and Columbia rivers are healthy, Northern California's Klamath River has seen poor returns of spawning salmon. In recent years, Klamath water has been diverted for farming, leading to lower river levels, warmer water and an increase in parasites that attack young fish.
Because salmon return to spawn in the rivers where they were born, fishery managers are concerned that catching the reduced numbers of Klamath salmon could deplete future generations.
There are plenty of salmon in the ocean, but it's nearly impossible to catch those salmon without taking Klamath fish because fishermen can't distinguish between salmon from different rivers.
The 1,200 West Coast fishermen who trolled for salmon last year are worried about the impact of fishing restrictions on their livelihoods as well as coastal communities up and down the West Coast that depend on the trade.
Commercial salmon landings were worth $23 million in California and $13 million in Oregon last year, while recreational fisheries were worth $18 million in California and $5 million in Oregon, according to the council.